Last summer looked abnormal for me, as it did for everyone I knew. In the span of a week, I had been sent home from my freshman year of college on an “extended spring break,” was told I would not be able to study abroad in Italy, summer church camp & the Parish Life Conference were cancelled, and I couldn’t physically be with my friends and family. Even though I was FaceTiming my friends multiple times a day and had more family time than ever before, I felt alone.
Why is this happening?
That was a thought that ran through my head every day I was home. I tried to remind myself that my situation was better than most: I was healthy with a roof over my head, family in the next room, and toilet paper to last me a lifetime. But it was hard. I struggled to find gratitude in the things I was able to experience that summer. As restrictions started to lighten up in Southern California, my friends and I had more freedom to be out and about. I was so happy to be able to leave the house that I didn’t really stop to give the last few months a second thought.
In December, we started planning what OCF at the University of Oklahoma was going to discuss for the spring semester. Katy Powers recommended Robin Phillipps’, Gratitude in Life’s Trenches: How to Experience the Good Life Even When Everything is Going Wrong, a very fitting book for our current situation. As we dove into the book, I started to realize how gratitude and perseverance go hand-in-hand. Robin focuses on the darker side of finding happiness.
People tell you that when you’re sad, you shouldn’t listen to sad music because it makes you more sad (spoiler alert: they’re right). You can follow this same principle when you’re going through life. If you dwell too much on anything going wrong in your life, you will never be able to find gratitude.
The only way to find that light of the end of the tunnel is to trek through the path before you and persevere.
As we went deeper into the book, all of the good that came out of the last year became clear to me. My dad and I spent a lot of time building a patio in the backyard, we tried tons of new delicious recipes, and my family and I got to hang out and play games almost every night. The more we talked about the book, the more I realized how much stronger I am because of the hardships we faced during this time.
It wasn’t until I sat down to write this blog post that realized how this last year has prepared me for the rest of my life. I still don’t know why God presented us with this challenge. What I do know is that our perseverance as Orthodox Christians has not only helped us grow as individuals, but has shown other people the light of Christ during trying times.
The University of Oklahoma OCF Chapter President
Hi everyone! I’m Sammy, a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma studying Health and Exercise Science and Sports Management. I was raised in Southern California at St. Nicholas until we started the St. Simeon mission in Santa Clarita. I’m the president of the OU OCF chapter and love going to Camp St. Nicholas in the summer as a camper/counselor. I love to watch sports with my friends, try out new recipes, and travel!
After serving in Romania on Real Break 2020, I applied to be Real Break Student Leader for Orthodox Christian Fellowship. I wanted to help create other service opportunities for students. What a whirlwind of a year! Back in early Fall 2020, we did not know how long the pandemic would last, and we kept running into barriers in planning. We did our best trying to navigate traveling precautions and eventually saw most schools cancelling their spring breaks. As the year progressed, it became obvious that a traditional Real Break would not happen. To be completely honest, this was frustrating and disappointing. I found myself nervous I would not be able to do the work of my position on the Student Leadership Board. This time was trying, but it was still fruitful!
With a desire to empower students to serve their communities, especially with increased need due to COVID-19, a new program was created! A dedicated team of OCF staff and friends listened to me as I brainstormed ideas, and thus, a flexible 16-week course with nine incredible instructors called Real Break Now: How To Be The Church in The World was formed. Students living in 22 different states and 5 different countries have come together to prepare for the opportunity to apply for two $1000 grants towards a project serving their community this summer.
I am incredibly grateful for each person who helped to make this happen. The students have put so much thought into the material. Here is just a glimpse of the topics we have discussed during the first three modules:
Module 1: How Orthodoxy is a Way of Life, Not Just a Religion, led by Fr. Nicholas Belcher
We discussed questions on how to avoid “Phariseeism,” stories of people who have impacted us spiritually, the interaction between church rituals and service, and actions we can take to make our faith more of a way of life. Here is what a few of our wonderful students have to say:
”I really like how Fr. Nick addressed the alleged dichotomy between church rituals and good deeds/service. Growing up Orthodox, I have always believed the Sacraments are important. In society, I feel like some say that the church is useless without service and living out the Gospel and act as if the two are mutually exclusive. I like how Fr. Nick simply points out that if you think about it, there is no reason for them to be mutually exclusive and that, in fact, they support one another and are both essential to follow The Way.” -Chase
”I’ve always admired the way that Orthodoxy encompasses all five senses – from the iconography (seeing), to incense (smelling), to Holy Communion (tasting), to the choir and chanters (hearing), to crossing and performing prostrations (feeling). Growing up in a protestant church, I always felt God was at arm’s length, that reverence was an old-fashioned notion. Once I stumbled across the Orthodox faith, (admittedly at first I was skeptical of my first Liturgy due to it being such a different service than I was used to), I could sense that Liturgy was/is so much more than a penciled-in Sunday appointment. Orthodoxy is a faith that brings together – even, as Fr. Belcher described – the seemingly opposing “works” and “spirituality” – We need both! And his talk was a needful, convicting reminder of this.” -Anna-Sophia
”I definitely struggle with living in the Way without making a checklist (lol), but I find I get closer to my spiritual best when I decelerate. Most of the best moments in my spiritual life happen when I slow down, reflect, and truly focus on God and the moment. My faith becomes a checklist when life speeds up, I let myself get too busy, and I start to rush through prayer, my interactions with others, etc. I try to avoid falling into “Phariseeism” by countering moments of pride with thoughts of thankfulness and humility. Galatians 2:20 has really helped me center myself in my spiritual journey; it is the only Bible verse I’ve ever memorized: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Peggy
“When he was talking about orthodoxy being a way of life, I got reminded of struggles that I used to have and that I may slightly struggle with to this day – putting God into every aspect of your life. Throughout high school and especially my first two years of college, I was very focused on my academics and career but I never put God into it. I never asked God to lead me, instead, I took things into my own hands. I felt like I was a part-time Christian because I was only asking Him for guidance concerning certain matters. But the thing is God should be put everywhere. He should be the light to your career, your friendships and bonds. Instead of telling God, “Please help me to get into this company I really want to intern with them,” maybe we ought to say, “Lord if it is Your will for me to work with this company then so be it, and if not, then may I be deterred from it.” When I started saying this prayer, I saw that was paving the way for me and it was very much clear.” -Kermena
Module 2: How to Have A Hospitable Heart, led by Georgia Mamalakis
We discussed how we have been affected by being given hospitality, the importance of being present, how to cultivate a welcoming spirit, and shared practical suggestions with each other.
“I think too often I don’t approach people or am not hospitable because of my own pride- I think do I want to add one more person who could potentially judge me to this moment, or would I rather stay in a safe shell? As soon as we are hospitable to someone and invite them in, we have the potential to get hurt by them, too. And I think that’s where the second point is so important- being hospitable to Christ and having Him dwell in you and giving you that God-esteem, which helps us to be hospitable to ourselves by knowing Christ is in us. Allowing ourselves to give and serve out of pure philanthropia and philoxenia means overflowing with love that we just give in abundance to everyone we meet, not thinking about how they might perceive/judge us in return. Unconditional love is giving without expecting any love back, but it’s also giving without worrying about/expecting certain reactions or approval for self-assurance.” -Nicole
“One of the things Mrs. Mamalakis mentioned that stuck with me was that we should “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” I think that’s something I struggle with. I might do something nice for someone, but there are times when I’m thinking about how I don’t want to be doing it or what better things I have to do. This is something I need to work on, so that’s what I’m going to try in order to better cultivate hospitality.” -Jane
I had a realization the other day that absolutely blew my mind- maybe y’all have already mentioned or thought about this. The whole topic of hospitality has had such an impact on me in that I think it’s really the basis of the faith- you can’t trust, grow, or cultivate love without being hospitable to at least someone- Christ, your neighbor, or yourself. And I realized the absolute epitome of this is the Theotokos!!! She LITERALLY allowed the Holy Spirit inside of her and allowed Christ to dwell and be born in her, and then continued to give Him a place to lay his head, like Mrs. Mamalakis talked about. We are all called to be “God-bearers”, and since the Theotokos literally bore God, she is the perfect example of hospitality. -Nicole
Module 3: Cultivating A Spirit of Service, led by Katrina Bitar
We discussed barriers to serving, how service is about people instead of projects, and decompartmentalizing service. One of the questions covered was, “What are your thoughts on this quote from John Chrysostom: ‘Need alone is a poor man’s worthiness’?”
“This quote boils down all of the societal dynamics around service and giving to its key component: meet a need. No other factor should matter. We should not appoint ourselves judge over a poor man to try and determine whether or not his needs meet our standards. There is only one judge, God, and He is the only one who should judge. If a beggar is lying or deceitful about his need, then God will judge him, but if we don’t show him love and service, God will judge us. We must multiply the mercy God gives us constantly.” -Chase
“This quote perfectly anticipates the response of a hardened heart. Living in a big city, it is easy to become numb or even blind to the poverty and suffering around you. I could easily pass the same homeless man under the same bridge every day and think nothing of it. I love how, in the video and this quote, there is a focus on the softening of the heart and coming to realize our mutual humanity and share in the responsibility of clothing and feeding the poor. I also struggle with making excuses like “there are shelters for that” or “maybe it’s not safe.” But this is indicative of a hardened heart-this shrugs responsibility and places blame on others, caring only for oneself. This quote is humbling in just the right way.” – Cassidy
“Need alone is a poor man’s worthiness” A-MEN. It has taken me a while to truly understand this concept. The houseless in Louisville are often viewed with scorn and are often passed by. It is if not living up to the American Dream of Prosperity, with a house and happy family and a steady job, is a secular sin.” -Elijah
Thank you to everyone who has helped to create this beautiful community! Our course still has a few more weeks, and I look forward to learning more in our discussions and zoom calls.
Also, apply for the Student Leadership Board!! Engaging in fulfilling work and gaining friends who have become family has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. You could be a part of this community, too! Learn more about how to apply HERE.
is a senior at Kansas State University studying Nutrition & Health. She loves getting to know people, reading, traveling, eating good food, and anything outdoors (if it is not cold). She is Real Break Student Leader this year and is so grateful for the course she has been able to create and the people she has met through OCF programming!
By Jeanine Kaileh
It’s that time of the year again — Student Leadership Board (SLB) applications are OPEN!
My name is Jeanine Kaileh and I have served as the Southwest Regional Student Leader (RSL) on the SLB for 2 years, and I’ll be serving as SLB Chairwoman for the upcoming academic year!
In April 2019, I was volun-told by two friends of mine to apply for the Southwest RSL position. I did not know much about what I was getting myself into, but I did know that it was for the Church, and that in itself is what drew me to apply. During that summer, I met with a few SLB members to discuss our upcoming year, gaining a better sense of what being on the SLB entailed. It was not until the Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) in August 2019, that I fully understood what my responsibilities and expectations were. After two years (and moving onwards with a third year), I can confidently say that applying without fully knowing what was going to happen was one of the greatest, most unexpected blessings of my life.
If you apply for the SLB, here’s what you’ll be getting into:
Whatever your position may be, it’ll be the work of the Lord. That work, along with the work of our project committees, more often than not, is done in companionship with fellow SLBers who will likely become your closest friends while you’re on the board, and lifelong friends thereafter. Along with that, the work that comes into fruition impacts fellow students of the OCF community and allows not only them, but yourself, to spiritually grow in such a transformative time of our lives. Like anything in life, there are moments of frustration, confusion, and even disappointment, but the joy, beauty, grace, and Christ-centeredness of it all is what drives the SLB to continue on with the work of the Church and the faith.
Being on the SLB is the gift that keeps on giving. As written in 2 Corinthians 9: 6-8, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
Why did you join the SLB?
“I joined because I wanted to do more for the Orthodox Christian Fellowship and for the college students in this ministry. The people who encouraged me to apply and those who I knew who were on the board currently had the greatest most loving hearts, souls, and minds. I had a feeling that it would probably change my life to work with them and get to know them. I was not wrong.” – Alethia Placencia
I joined the SLB because I wanted to contribute to an organization that I have grown to love over my college career. Hearing the stories from previous SLBers inspired me to apply to the board so that I could work to make OCF the best it could be. – Thomas Retzios
I joined the SLB because I wanted to find a way to build a connection with my faith and the people around me on a deeper level. I also wanted to learn professional skills that could help shape me as an individual – Jenna Riadi
What do you like about being on the SLB?
“The SLB is an answer to praying in bringing me a community who supports me in my work and who I can be my authentic self around. I know I could call up anyone on the board, and they would be there for me to listen or help in any way. I love everyone I have met so much, and I know these people care about me deeply! I love how supportive we are of each other. Every person puts their whole heart into their work and wants to create a beautiful experience for their fellow students.” – Anna Spencer
“I love all the community and love and all the new friends I have made. Everyone is so amazing and willing to help with whatever I need. The SLB has provided me with great people who push me in my faith and as a leader and help me do my best work for OCF.” – Alexandra Gluntz
How do you feel it has changed your college experience?
“I have made my closest friends through this program. It less “changed” my college experience and more *defined* it.” – George Powell
“Being on the SLB has given me a deeper understanding of my faith.” – Teli Stathopoulos
“SLB has made me a better student, friend, Orthodox Christian, and individual! Wait, you want me to elaborate? SAY LESS. Serving on the student leadership board has strengthened my time management and communication skills! I find it much easier to stay on top of my responsibilities as a student and EMT as I’ve learned to maximize my time to ensure everything gets done immediately!” – Remy Salloum
“Serving on the SLB has changed my college experience by connecting me with other Orthodox Christians around the country, and through our work on the SLB, we have all developed close relationships.” – Thomas Retzios
Do you have any advice to anyone applying?
“Even if you’re not sure you’re qualified, apply! This is a space for learning and growth, it’s a safe space! Don’t be afraid to apply and ask questions :)” – Jenna Riadi
“Bring your ideas to the table. OCF is dedicated to growing and improving while having fun :)” – Analisa Callendar
“I had no idea what this year would look like due to the pandemic, but I am so glad I took the leap and applied for my position. Joining the SLB helped me experience love and support in more ways than I knew existed. My experience with OCF has been amazing so far, and I hope others can benefit from this organization as much as I have. APPLY!!!” – Peggy Polydoros
“Make OCF a priority and you won’t regret it.” – Sofia Kroll
“Be ready to have a good time.” – Tino Kayafas
Southwest Regional Student Leader
I am a 3rd year biopsychology major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I enjoy cooking, baking, reading, journaling, and tatreezing (traditional Palestinian embroidery). I’m serving currently on the Student Leadership Board as the Southwest Regional Student Leader for my second year and next year I will serve as the Chairman of SLB! I love OCF with all of my heart! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!
If you looked at my 2020 planner in January, you would see back-to-back classes, club meetings, assignments, and exams, as well as vacations, road trips, summer camp, and OCF events lined up for the year.
That planner was basically useless a few months later. By March, as we all know, plans were postponed, with some eventually leading to cancellation. As someone who loves being on-the-go with an endless to-do list, it was difficult to feel thankful when I realized I wasn’t going to be living the 2020 I envisioned and planned for at the beginning of the year.
When the initial shutdown occurred, I moved back in with my parents. Emotions were heightened: I was frustrated with the transition to remote learning, stressed because I simultaneously became IT, secretary, barber, chef (not a brilliant one, might I add), and chauffeur as soon as I parked in the garage at my parents’ home. I was disappointed that I couldn’t physically attend church, saddened by having to postpone or cancel plans, and distraught at the sight of the world amid the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic. As I created a new routine and schedule, I gave myself two options: sulk around in my sorrows or search for joy. It took me some time, but I chose to search for joy, and that’s when my attitude suddenly snapped together.
Being back at home with my family allowed me to do things I regretted not doing prior to moving out in 2018, or doing things I missed doing with them while at UCSB.
My mom attempted to teach me how to cook her Arab recipes.
My dad and I visited our family vineyards more frequently, allowing us to breathe fresh air that felt stripped away when wearing a mask.
My older sister and I bonded and spent more quality time together than we probably ever have in our lives.
My education was (and still is) quite literally at my fingertips in a virtual world through my laptop.
Most importantly, my God is always surrounding me.
As challenging as it felt in the beginning, I found that it was the simplest, littlest things that I should have been more grateful for all along: my family, friends and community, my home, food, education, and faith.
In a chaotic world that has felt like it’s crumbling this year, we should remember to be grateful to God and what He blesses us with, to be grateful for the plan He writes out for us, rather than trying to write it for ourselves. In the words of St. Basil the Great,
“When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking Him for being so generous to you. If you drink wine, be mindful of Him who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank Him for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God’s feet and adore Him who in His wisdom has arranged things in this way. Similarly, when the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love, and praise their Creator.”
Southwest Regional Student Leader
I am a 3rd year biopsychology major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I enjoy cooking, baking, reading, journaling, and tatreezing (traditional Palestinian embroidery). I’m serving on the Student Leadership Board as the Southwest Regional Student Leader for my second year and love OCF with all of my heart!
Leaving Greece to come to America for college, I had no idea how I would maintain my faith without having the ‘church’ around me – I was scared of my exposure to different religions and denominations because I had never experienced that before. In Greece, I found it uncommon to have religion-related differences. While I grew up in a God-centered family, I never questioned why I was Orthodox. Upon living in America, I found myself beginning to challenge many concepts and ideas I perhaps took for granted. Becoming a part of OCF, I was able to find a community with the resources to help me with these new questions.
It wasn’t until an entire year of college had passed that I randomly found out about OCF from a friend at church who invited me to a regional retreat. Let me tell you, I was a bit skeptical in the beginning knowing nothing about the organization. At that same point in time, I had been talking with my Russian friend about starting a club to unite all the Orthodox students on our campus, since we did not have anything like that yet. After researching the work of OCF on their website, I was genuinely fascinated. My first thought was, “we don’t have that in Greece.” Fast forward a day later and both my Russian friend and I registered for the retreat, which was coming up the following week. Immediately after our experience at the retreat, we started our club on campus as an OCF Chapter!
Everything happened so fast. I was so happy and excited to be part of a community where I could be 100% myself and not feel judged about my beliefs. I would have never imagined the blessings that OCF has brought to my life. I have gotten to meet people I can have fun with and connect with on a spiritual level. There is so much meaning in friendship and an even deeper connection when you share the same values and beliefs with someone. I didn’t even have that in Greece!
OCF opened the door for me to be with people who can understand and help me when I need advice or guidance. Through OCF, I’ve been able to participate in a Real Break Trip to Texas, a YES day, and other retreats . Ever since I learned about OCF, I went to all events I could! Real Break in Texas this past March was a life-changing experience. I got to serve with like-minded people knowing that we all chose to be there and serve. We worked to provide a home for someone who lost it due to hurricane Harvey. It was a very humbling experience I will never forget, alongside the program’s amazing leaders that brought all the fun! It is safe to say that OCF has been the best part of college.
Berea OCF Chapter Leader
Eirini Symeonidou is an international student from Thessaloniki, Greece and goes to Berea College in Kentucky. She is a junior majoring in Agriculture and minoring in Sustainability and Environmental Studies. She is also a farmer at the college’s organic farm and loves spending time outdoors and going to the beach (when in Greece)! Eirini is a founding member of her college’s OCF chapter and loves to organize events and activities.
No matter who you are, you have experienced some sort of struggle in your life. You may have asked yourself: why is God allowing this to happen to me? Fr. Calinic Berger gave a beautiful homily (1:39:15) on this topic focusing on the verse: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]. He explained how a cross is an unavoidable challenge God allows for those He loves. We can allow ourselves to become resentful or choose for it to bring us closer to Him.
While in Romania last spring for Real Break (where we almost got locked out of the US… but that’s a story for another time), I learned about Fr. George Calciu (1925-2006). Fr. George was a Romanian priest living under Communist rule who boldly dared to preach The Gospel and bring hope to the Romanian people. Because of this, he was imprisoned and suffered through horrendous torture, some of which was “1984-style mind control experiments,” for twenty-one years. Fr. George eventually escaped to the United States where one of our trip leaders, Fr. Robert Miclean, was blessed to know him. Fr. Robert told us how Fr. George not only forgave his tormentors and prayed for them, but also he thanked them for bringing him closer to Christ. Fr. George was given a cross that he bore with such grace and humility. (For those who would like to read more of his story: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/46636.html).
Here in America, we thankfully do not have to fear torture for our faith, but we still all have crosses to bear. This is not to make us angry and frustrated, but for the reason Fr. George saw: to bring us closer to God. Hearing this story in Romania was deeply humbling and solidified my belief that God uses everything for good.
One experience that comes to mind is when my baby sister was diagnosed with a tumor. I am the oldest of six kids and had prayed and prayed for a sister. After four amazing brothers, God blessed me with a sister a month before I turned 13. However, before she turned 6 months old, the doctors found a rare tumor near her eye. Only around 300 people ever had suffered this type of tumor, and we were scared we would lose her or that she would have brain damage or be blinded. Her tumor miraculously went away, but for 6 years, it was a fearful and uncertain time of traveling 9 hours to MD Anderson in Houston. Our church family completely enveloped us with love, offering their homes to my parents while they stayed in Texas and taking care of their other five kids back in Kansas. A fruit of this cross regarding my sister’s health is now considering people family who I otherwise might not have known. We have even been gifted the opportunity to open our arms and share love with others going through health crises.
These two stories are crosses that are outwardly visible, but crosses can also be more internal. A friend of mine felt disconnected, lonely, and deeply insecure during middle school and parts of high school. This was a time guided by low self-worth, but she realized that this experience formed her into a more inclusive, empathetic individual. Because of it, she has grown into the person she needed during that time and is able to connect on a deeper level with other young people currently going through similar struggles.
We must remember not to compare our struggles to others’ and to rely on God’s grace to bring us towards the ultimate goal: salvation. Whatever your personal cross may be, know that you are not alone in your journey. We are together in the Body of Christ. May we all learn from examples like Fr. George as we strive to stay on the path towards Christ.
is a senior at Kansas State University studying Nutrition & Health. She loves getting to know people, reading, traveling, eating good food, and anything outdoors (if it is not cold). She is Real Break Student Leader this year and would love it if you came to Real Break office hours (Time TBD) later this semester!
Why Apply by Andrew Gluntz
It seems weird that only a year ago, I was staring at my computer screen trying to write my SLB application. I was nervous, sure. I didn’t know if I could manage the work. I didn’t really know what I had to offer to the board, and I certainly couldn’t tell you three reasons why I was fit to be an RSL (hint: this will be important when you’re writing your app). I didn’t even have a solid professional reference. But what I did have was two years of amazing experiences in OCF. I had an incredibly supportive chapter that I had helped lead my sophomore year. I had been to two College Conferences and a retreat. I had friends I had made through OCF, random small group leaders who became my people (spoiler alert: OCF gives you friends). And lucky for me, I had two role models showing me exactly what serving the church on the SLB looked like.
I’m sure anyone on the board could tell you all the great things about being a servant leader, the amazing community and support of other young, Orthodox leaders, and all the great times we have when we’re together. You’ve heard it. I’ve probably said it. You can most definitely hear it again if you ask (and you might not even have to). So today I’m going to tell you all the crummy things about being on the SLB.
- Coordinating meetings across four time zones is a NIGHTMARE. Working with people who are just waking up when you’re having lunch is the most frustrating thing ever. Your free time never lines up. EST is stuck in my head forever.
- Goodbyes suck. And when you’ve spent a week praying, working, and laughing alongside your best friends you met a week ago, they really suck.
- Thanks to Google Drive and Slack, I have ANOTHER thing to procrastinate with when I really should be doing homework. I know, OCF work is better than homework, but unfortunately, I can’t put midterms on pause just because it’s for church (maybe I can get an exception?)
- Let’s just say time zones exist for a reason. When you haven’t seen your friends in months and the closest you’ll ever be is a five-hour plane ride away, it’s heartbreaking when you realize SLI is eight months away.
If you’ve held on to this terrible monologue this long, I have a feeling you’ve got what it takes. Stamina is a given. Determination helps a lot too, especially when the odds of pulling off an event are seriously stacked against you. You must love OCF a lot if you were even mildly entertained by this, so that’s another step in the right direction. And if you’re reading this in the first place, you want to serve. You want to get involved, and you want to be a steward of your talents. You know that God is calling you to serve His Church, and you know OCF has impacted you in so many ways and you know you want to step up.
So, apply. Don’t apply because I told you to (but you should apply). Don’t apply because your friends are applying (but you should encourage your friends to apply). Don’t apply because you want to get cool t-shirts (but you should design some cool merch for us). Don’t even apply because it sounds like fun (but I can guarantee, it will be fun).
Don’t apply because you think you can afford to give yourself over to Christ’s calling in your life. Apply because you can’t afford not to.
You get the drift.
Apply for the board.
Great Lakes Regional Student Leader
Andrew is the current student leader residing over the Great Lakes region, and is next year’s SLB Chairman. Andrew goes to THE Ohio State University and is a Chemical Engineering major. In his free time, Andrew enjoys cooking, swimming, and playing music. He is also ambidextrous! His favorite saint is Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnika. If you have any questions for Andrew feel free to reach out to him at email@example.com
by Evyenia Pyle
A couple years ago in Sunday school, my mom, who was our teacher, challenged the class to give an elevator pitch about Orthodoxy. We were asked to come up with a 30-second pitch that might spark someone’s interest in the church.. I never thought too far into it. I think I used Psalm 135 in high school to say that if His mercy endures forever, that is a comfort and reassurance. It wasn’t until a recent OCF meeting at my school that I was asked a new question. “Why are you Orthodox?” My answer was that back in November of 2000 my parents allowed me to get dunked under water and that was that. The discussion leader didn’t think it was as funny as I did but nudged me further and said, “Okay, but why are you Orthodox today?” Why am I Orthodox today? I could give my elevator pitch, but at the time my elevator pitch didn’t make sense. I didn’t know what to say.
I was sitting there thinking, there are few times I can be rendered speechless and this was one of them. Then I realized why I was Orthodox. “I hit rock bottom” I said. Everyone looked at me. “I had to hit rock bottom, to realize that I needed to choose Orthodoxy.” Now at the time I didn’t have the time to share what that meant. I have had a few days to reflect and I wanted to tell other OCF people about my experience. Rock bottom does not mean I was sitting in a corner crying rocking back and forth not knowing what to do, I mean I did that, but way before rock bottom. Rock bottom was when I realized there was nothing else that could fill my heart like God. I was trying to find anything to self-medicate and fill this hole in my heart. I was searching for a love that I couldn’t find surrounding myself with friends, strangers, family, and the only thing that could fill the hole was not on my mind. It was God. Everyone has their struggles in life, and while my specific struggles are beyond the scope of this post, I’d like to share my thought process with you.
I needed to start to pray, but I didn’t know where to start, but if I could just say the Jesus prayer, maybe that would help. So over and over again I said the Jesus prayer until the words started to sink in, and then it hit me. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner”. Have mercy on me the sinner. I went from that to the pre-communion prayer, “I believe O Lord and I confess that you are truly the Christ who did come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.” It was then that I thought about St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4, that we are the garbage of the world, but we are everything in the eyes of God. I looked in the mirror at that moment and said, “I am the garbage of the world, but I am everything in the eyes of God”. In that moment I felt myself begin to cry. As the sudden realization that as the first among sinners, the garbage of the world, and the sinner God still loved me to an extent I could never imagine. God still loved me, a broken and hurt soul, because in His eyes I am everything. I thought about John 3:17 where it says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Not only did that help me remember that God loves me, but that He doesn’t want to punish us, He wants to save and love us. Then I looked up at my icon wall and I saw my icon of the Good Shepherd. I have two versions of this icon, of course I have the one with Jesus holding the sheep, but then I have another one where Jesus is carrying a man. At that moment I knew that Christ would carry me while I was broken.
The overwhelming emotion that I experienced of being loved by the One who is love is something indescribable. The distractions of social media and earthly cares that I used to hide my own brokenness never lasted. It was like putting a band-aid on during open heart surgery to stop the bleeding. It didn’t hold and it would never hold. The only thing that filled my heart and healed it was Christ. The only person who would always truly love me even at my worst was Christ. So, there I was, at rock bottom, in my room, waiting for an answer, to discover that I had it all along. If you asked me today what my elevator pitch is for Orthodoxy, I would tell you that it is the most healing medicine there is. The Church is the greatest hospital in which to realize that in my brokenness, Christ will still love me. Even if I was the garbage of the world, even though I was the sinner, and the first among sinners, God sees me as His perfect creation. How could I have forgotten something so fundamental to our faith. Why do I choose Orthodoxy? I choose Orthodoxy because it is through my faith in Christ that I can deal with whatever life throws at me. It is through the most healing hospital of Christ that I can be beautifully broken and put together by God. I choose Orthodoxy because I can be broken, and I can be the garbage of the world, but no matter what, I am everything in the eyes of God.
Publications Student Leader
Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare there is a quote that says, “How far that candle shines his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” Today’s post isn’t going to be, dare I say, typical. I want to talk about the opportunities we have to serve in OCF. Our theme this month, as has been reiterated over and over again, is John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Shakespeare got one thing right here, and maybe he wasn’t trying to use an Orthodox perspective, but we too believe that the world today has darkness, but the best way to keep the light shining, is to shine our own light. Now you may be thinking, “Um, I am in college, I don’t have the money/resources to do good deeds. Guess what!? OCF can give you everything you need in an easy two step process.
First Step: Find an OCF YES Day or Retreat near you by clicking this link https://www.ocf.net/events/
Second Step: Register! (Don’t forget to show up! I guess there are three steps…)
What does a YES Day or Retreat have to do with service and good deeds?
YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) Days are an amazing one-day program endorsed by OCF and the offered by FOCUS North America (https://focusnorthamerica.org/) where students gather at a church and complete a service project of some kind. For example, last year I attended the Chicago YES Day. We went to a fast food restaurant and bought a ton of food and handed it out to people on the street and talked with them. It was really cool to hear people’s stories, even if they were just wanting a snack waiting for the bus. To see people be affected by what we did, was an incredible experience. I know I tend to forget how fortunate I am. I have my own car, and a roof over my head, and some people didn’t even have a jacket on a cold October day. People asked us where we were from, and we were given the opportunity to share our faith. Some people had heard of Orthodoxy, and some said they would even try to go to the local church that was hosting us! This truly lifted our spirits, and warmed my heart in places I didn’t know were getting cold.
Last November at the Midwest Fall Retreat we made blankets. What does that have to do with good deeds? Well, we made tie blankets, with cute patterns, and sent them to a pregnancy resource center for babies. Blankets are important because babies being swaddled and wrapped in something gives them a sense of security. Pregnancy resource centers are organizations that help mothers who have difficult decisions to make when they become pregnant. Some mothers lose support from people they relied on and need help. They can go to the pregnancy resource center and receive assistance, baby food, diapers, and blankets. The blankets are important because for a mother that feels like they are losing control, the blanket isn’t just a sense of security for the baby anymore, but for the mom as well, who sees that her baby is being taken care of, and is comfortable.
Last March at the Central Illinois District Retreat, the service event involved going to a place called Salt ‘n Light Ministry. This organization allows people to work and gain store credit to buy groceries, clothing, furniture, basically anything someone might need. We had students stocking fruits and vegetables, printing price tags, sorting clothes, and lots of other chores to help out. This ministry provides people with the dignity in knowing that they aren’t receiving handouts, but are reaping the fruits of their labor.
So, with all those examples of things I did last year, I now am urging you to get involved, and to allow our light to shine as a “good deed shines in a weary world.” You never know when you could be the person to help someone learn to shine their own light. Sign up for an OCF event today! I promise you won’t regret it!
Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! email@example.com
Let’s set the scene: we had just finished breakfast after fully enjoying the treat that are the breakfast potatoes of the St. Iakovos Retreat Center. We settle down in in our seats, and we are suddenly attending a gospel concert starring none other than the wonderful Fr. Barnabas Powell. Fr Powell began to sing loudly in front of the whole conference, and to play along I exclaimed a loud and faithful, “TESTIFY,” which was followed by uproarious laughter. Let this conference begin I thought to myself.
Fr. Barnabas concludes his song and after the students’ excited applause he turns to us and in a serious and focused tone, says:
“If you do not know the identity of Jesus Christ, you will never know who you truly are.”
What followed was the stunned silence of a room of people doubting the knowledge of their own identity and the identity of Jesus Christ. This statement set the tone and topic for the conference, “Who do you say that I am?” from the Gospel of Matthew.
As a group, we collectively gathered our scuba gear knowing fully well that at this conference we were diving DEEP into our identity and the identity of Christ. You may ask, what do we mean when we say God, and what is the identity of Jesus Christ? We as Orthodox understand God as the uncreated Being, the Creator of all, who reveals Himself as three persons in the Holy Trinity in full and complete communion, as inseparable as the fire of three candles sharing a flame.
Thankfully, Christ tells us who He is, He just flat out tells us so there is no ambiguity:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Therefore, we know that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Now what does this have to do with our own identity? In order for us to fully know ourselves and fully comprehend our identity, we have to begin to understand that Christ is the truth of life, its purpose, and its instiller of purpose concurrently. Christ is our nexus and the face, the icon by which we can know God, who lived and breathed on earth as we do, the infinity who became finite for us.
But why should we even care about knowing Christ and knowing ourselves? It’s because we’re diseased–sorry guys but it had to be said. We live in a fallen world and a fallen state, and the difference between knowing God and not knowing Him is the difference between wholeness and emptiness. Every time we are longing for home, we are hungry, we are thirsty, we cause pain, and feel pain we understand this emptiness and feel our tangible distance from God.
How do we begin to know God? Fr. Jannakos helped us answer that question. He taught us that we begin to know Him by imitating Him, by learning to tame the passions and working to attain the virtues of the Holy Spirit.
My spiritual father described the taming of the passions to me in the most beautiful way I have ever heard it, and I want to share it with you:
“Imagine the passions as an untamed fire, it grows, it spreads, and it causes destruction in everything it grows through. It is so big, it is unignorable and wild. Our job is to take those passions and tame them and (pointing to the light in the kandyli) turn them into the tame and beautiful flame of the candle that gives us warmth and light.”
This is the way of the Orthodox, becoming LIKE Christ in His perfect and sinless self. But how can we take this lofty theology and bring it down to the nitty gritty of the everyday life of a college student? To that, we turn to the expertise of Mother Gabriella, the abbess of Holy Dormition Monastery in Michigan.
Mother Gabriella, amidst her talk on the things she has learned as an abbess, and as an immigrant to the United States from Romania. She taught me how to incorporate small lessons in discipline and asceticism into my daily life. Some of her pro tips:
- Wake up exactly when your alarm clock sounds.
- Get to church earlier (1/2 way during matins). It shows respect and devotion to God.
- Take a few moments every day to be quiet.
- Clean up and put your things where they belong.
- Control your diet.
Ultimately, these tips can help you with the discipline needed to resist temptation. The most important thing in struggle is to never struggle alone–struggle with God because alone you cannot do it. Lastly, the piece of advice that can be applied to be a better human being is to just let things go. Forgive people. You never know what they are going through on the inside. Anger is the punishment we give ourselves for someone else’s mistake. Let. It. Go.
College Conference Midwest 2019 was a blast. I got to meet a group of new people, and really get to know what they are thinking about and going through on college campuses. I got to catch up with old friends and have new adventures. College Conference is the place where you can learn and be strengthened in your faith and learn how to better yourself spiritually.
This last conference, Fr. Jonathan Bannon was able to bring an array of relics and I was able to physically meet a new slew of saints at this conference. So not only did I make more friends but spiritual ones as well.
I urge you all to continue participating if you have and encourage those who haven’t just come and try it. Let your guard down, open your mind, and learn at College Conference.
My names Simeon and I go to County College of Morris in NJ. My Real Break experience started at the age of ten; surprising right? No they didn’t let a ten-year-old go on Real Break, but at the age of ten, I sent my oldest brother off on his first Real Break trip to Guatemala. It was the first of many trips to the airport, sending my siblings to exotic locations: Alaska, Mexico, Istanbul, Jerusalem. But it was that first trip when my brother came home that I also wanted to have an amazing experience just like him.
I was excited watching them leave, and I waited in anticipation for their amazing stories and pictures that they would share with me upon their return. They inspired me because I saw their love for Christ and their life experience grow after every trip, and I awaited an opportunity for my own trip.
For the next eight years of my life, I told my parents how excited I was to go to college, not because of the typical reasons, but because I could finally go on my own Real Break trip.
Going into my first Real Break trip I didn’t know what to expect. This was my first time flying by myself, and I had connecting flights. I was both anxious in anticipation of the fun, but also anxious because of the logistics of flying alone. But what I received in the end, in spiritual and global wisdom, I never expected, and it made any stress worth while. The joy in worshiping and working alongside some of the most dedicated college students was, for me, a life-changing experience. The camaraderie with the other students that I experience during the trip was deepened by our deep love for Christ and allowed us all to connect and become friends in a matter of minutes.
For example, on my trip to Alaska, I found myself reflection on how incredible it is to share the amazing beauty that God has blessed us with with my fellow Orthodox Christians. We were constantly surrounded by wonderful white landscapes of snow and witnessed the awe-inspiring expanses of the winter-laden forests. The opportunity to give back to the Alaskan people was uplifting and helped make the trip feel full.
The Alaskan people were appreciative of our service, and we were appreciative of the opportunity to learn more about them and their way of life. We had a lot in common with the cold–me being from New Jersey and all! Not only did we serve the Alaskan people, but we also got to participate in the Lenten services, which was so spiritually fulfilling. I came out of this trip with ten new friends, all of which I know I’ll have for the rest of my life. We all shared in each others struggles and were strengthened when we went on our respective paths.
So you may be sitting here reading my experience thinking, “I’m glad you had a great time on your trip, but my names not Simeon, I don’t go to County College of Morris, and I’m not even from NJ. How can you guarantee I’m going to have just as great an experience?” Well you’re partially right, most likely your name isn’t Simeon, but that’s not what made my trip special. What made my trip special was the people I met, the places I visited, and the opportunity to serve.
You can read any other Real Break story, and you’ll see how much of a fantastic time these trips are. It all starts with you, and a decision you’ll never regret.
My names Simeon Brasowski. I’m a senior at County College of Morris in NJ. I am the 2018-2019 Real Break Student Leader, and I love travelling. My favorite hobbies are hiking, socializing, and photography. If I could, I might just live outside for the rest of my life. For the socializing, I enjoy meeting new people and just talking. My friends think I’m a chatty Cathy, but it’s a hobby for me.
If you have any questions about Real Break, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This year, I attended my first OCF retreat at St. Methodios Faith & Heritage Center in New Hampshire. I went along with 25 other college students from the Northeast region of the United States.
The retreat was held on a day that was brisk but not to the point where we were freezing. We lit fires every night, went hiking through the beautiful trails behind the camp, and participated in the intimacy of divine services, including Paraklesis, Vespers, and Liturgy.
The theme of the retreat was “Smell the Flowers: The Easy Path to the Kingdom”, and our service work was the perfectly unplanned task of landscaping; we planted flowers in front of the camp’s main dining hall.
The premise of the retreat was based off of a story from the book Wounded by Love, written by St. Porphyrios of Mount Athos. Briefly, St. Porphyrios was visiting the island of Patmos at the cave where St. John received the Revelation. He was overcome with grace and happiness from the Holy Spirit and wanted to escape in solitude to fully enjoy it, yet he couldn’t because of the amount of tourists surrounding him.
St. Porphyrios stepped away from the cave, in hopes to come back at a later time and experience the Holy Spirit once more. After returning to the cave, St. Porphyrios’ prayer felt dry and empty, and he did not feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. After stepping outside of the cave of Revelation, he decided to stop and smell the flowers.
He was overcome with awe and understanding when he contemplated the beauty and miracle of creation, which he experienced when he decided to take a moment to observe the flowers. St. Porphyrios came to an understanding at that time that God does not work on our time – He works in His time.
Initially, I was nervous to go on the OCF retreat, as I am currently a catechumen for the Orthodox Church and always felt as though I knew less than those around me – those already established in their faith and knowledge of the Church. To my surprise, there were other catechumens and many other converts.
The first night those who were raised within the Orthodox Church, those who have converted to the Orthodox Church, and those going through catechumenate stayed up until hours of the morning talking about our individual journeys in Orthodoxy.
This was the first time since deciding to be a part of the Church that I was surrounded by peers who were as passionate, enthusiastic, and so inspirational with their faith in Orthodoxy as I was. Conversations of faith were like wildfire that just kept burning. In the beginning, I thought to myself, “How could I be involved in these conversations of faith when there is SO much I still don’t know?”
I was comforted by the story of St. Porphyrios. Before coming a saint, before becoming a shepherd of God, he had a second-grade education. One thing I learned on this retreat is that it’s okay to not know everything and, in a sense, we will never know everything. We are all on a continuous journey, and we all have much to learn.
This post was written by Samantha Fricke, a student at the University of Binghamton. She is a senior studying psychology.
Hello, my name is Danielle Hines! I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (the Johnstown area to be specific). I’m here to talk to you all about SLI, and my experience there this past August!
How did you hear about SLI, and how you decide to come?
I heard about SLI from college conference 2017 and further from Caroline Mellekas (SLB Chairman). I was interested in going, but when summer came around I went to camp at the Antiochian Village for PLC, I was still on the fence about it. I was nervous that I wouldn’t know anyone there. Luckily, I met Peter Karos (College Confrence Midwest Leader), and he and Caroline, convinced me to attend saying I would love it and I would have an amazing time.
What did you want to get out of SLI, did you end up getting that?
I wanted to learn to be a better Orthodox leader and to learn more about my faith in a different way then I have before. Yes, I did get these things out of SLI and even more. I learned that working alone is sometimes the most difficult thing to do, and it’s ok to ask for help. I learned so much about praying and got a different perspective on generosity in the church.
What was your favorite session, what did you learn, and why did you like it?
My favorite session from SLI was Fr Stephen Vernak’s (SLI Spiritual Advisor) on Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom. I learned a new perspective on being still and prayer isn’t a big gesture we need to do all the time, and praying can be as simple as just crossing ourselves or saying morning prayers. One of his quotes that stuck with me and was, “We should try live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost, they could rewritten by looking us.” Another point from the book he focused on was our relationship with the Lord starts with each other. He also gave us two Bible verses on stillness. Those were Exodus 14:13 and Psalm 45:11. The biggest thing I took from this talk was to find your stillness and keep calm with prayers. The reason I liked this session was it help me in an area I was really struggling as a Orthodox Christian.
Describe your favorite moment from the institute.
My favorite moment of the institute was sitting at night and talking to everyone. At one point after dinner I noticed we were all sitting, talking to each other scattered all around the retreat center, some people upstairs some people down stairs and some cooking marshmallows by the fire that was outside. And at one point, we all looked at each other and said, “Let’s go up stairs and dance!” So we danced to Arabic music, Greek music, and even learned some Russian dances as well. We all had come together, and no matter what jurisdiction we were, we all came together that night.
My second favorite moment is from the first night, when all the participants had arrived we all went into the the chapel and chanted Paraklesis after evening prayers in celebration of the Dormition of the Theotokos. It was the most beautiful thing I had heard and seen in a long time. All the students and jurisdictions worshiping together, singing the service.
What are the things that you are going to take with you as an Orthodox Leader?
The things i’m going to take with me as an Orthodox Leader is to show others the teachings of the Church through my actions, guided by my love for God. Every person is different, and might not understand them one way or the other. I’m also going to take with me being a better listener and listening to people’s thoughts and problems making sure I listen before I react.
This is my reflection on SLI I hope this gives your a perspective of what SLI is and about I hope many of you come and participate. I will definitely be coming back next year to SLI and I hope you’ll join me!
Do you ever have one of those days in which you have so much work to do that you simply sit down and do nothing? Like, because you’re so overwhelmed, instead of chipping away at the work, you just deny that all of it exists?
Welcome to college.
In the worst solution ever contrived by young men and women–and that’s really saying something–we remove the burden of work from shoulders by denying its immediacy. We delay it, pretending as if we have all the time of the world. We crash, watch Netflix, eat a cookie (okay, several cookies), and feel better.
I think we can do the same things with our spiritual life–with our life in general, really.
And it’s understandable, easier to understand I think–because the time period is longer. The comeuppance of our spiritual life comes when we die, and when we arrive at the final judgment. Remembering the stakes of that eventual judgment is what gives us perspective on our daily lives; understanding that what we do today affects where we end up for eternity.
Isn’t that terrifying? Like, isn’t that draw-droppingly scary? I enter shutdown mode when I just have a lot of papers and assignments to do; when faced with the Final Judgment there’s no wonder, I think, that I want to curl up in a little ball and hide in the comfort of willing ignorance.
When we forget about that ultimate moment–the moment in which our actions are measured against our purpose; what we did against what we were made to do–we are seemingly freed from the responsibility to align with our purpose. We feel, perhaps a little synthetically, the freedom that we didn’t experience when fulfilling our purpose. Without a sense of finiteness, consequence, actions, decisions–these all exist in a vacuum. They do not matter, because we can inevitably rectify them on the ever-arriving tomorrow.
Lent, I think, helps remind us of our temporality. The Lenten process is a big countdown–among other things, of course–to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. By carving out this chunk of the year to remember the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, we’re not only reminded of Christ’s sacrifice and what that means for our salvation, but we also encounter an experience of a man–Jesus Christ–understanding his daily actions, choices, and moments all within the context of his death.
We always talk about Lent as a period of preparation, and a key aspect of that period is that we know when it ends: we have work to do; and we know when the work is due and the period ends. We can shirk it like we might our schoolwork at times, but there is an ultimate end, and that finiteness is what motivates us to be the way that we should, and not crumble to our vices in the moment.
It’s important to experience, every day, our end. To know that we do not have unlimited time and unlimited tries. That’s what instills our life with meaning, drives us beyond temptations. Experiencing temporality can be hard and scary, certainly–but it’s important that we do it, else we eternally attempt to avoid who we were meant to become.
Ah! SLB applications are open!
This is the first year of my college career that I won’t be applying for the Student Leadership Board–it feels weird. I’ve loved my position here, made some amazing friends and ridiculous memories alike, and hopefully done some good for the parents, students, and chapter advisers that swing by the blog.
In a perfect world, I’m back for year 3. But the world ain’t perfect–it’s incredibly busy, sometimes super stressful, and full of sacrifices. I’m incredibly blessed to attend a great college–but it’s very rigorous; incredibly blessed to have rewarding jobs in my prospective field for the future–but they demand the bulk of my time.
It would be cowardly and dishonest to not stand before you today and tell you I didn’t do nearly as good of a job this year in my position as the Publications Student Leader as I should have. I didn’t do nearly as good of a job on schoolwork, actual job work, going to the gym, reading for leisure, whatever. Life overwhelmed me.
I tell you this to offer a cautionary tale: if you’re going to do something, do it right. When you apply to the Student Leadership Board, it shouldn’t be primarily that you may throw it on your resume (though it certainly doesn’t hurt). It shouldn’t be because your friends are also applying for the Board (though they should and that’d be nice). It should be because you want to help Orthodox college students get through the briar patch–you want to, and you can as well.
Being on the OCF board is mission work. We forget that sometimes: it is mission work for the Church. We are spreading Christianity, not only to those in our communities who may be interested, but also to those who were raised in the Church. Whether we grew up in the Church or only recently joined it, we are always growing into the Church, growing through the Church. As we develop, so much our relationship with the Church–we encounter new things, experience and overcome new struggles by breaching new, previously undiscovered corners of our faith.
In short, college changes us: but the Church accompanies and even guides us through that change. OCF helps the Church do just that.
Being on the Student Leadership Board places the onus of helping the Church guide students through the college change squarely on your shoulders. This is your mission. When you work as a Regional Student Leader, you organize events for, reach out to, and coordinate with all of the OCFers in your area. When you work on the Programs side of things–Real Break, College Conferences–you spend all year forming the incredible, nationwide opportunities that only places like OCF can provide. When you work on my side of things–Media, Podcast, PR, Publications–you have a daily grind of linking OCF chapters from across the nation, and unifying us all through our common struggles and successes.
But you aren’t only the agent of the mission; you are also the subject. You are in college; you change. It is, I think, a fallacy to say “I am not strong in my faith, I’m struggling so much, I can’t be on the OCF board.” Rather, joining the board only gets you closer to the process, deeper into the restorative and strengthening powers of the Church and the faith. It is work, yes–but it is also respite, joy, and salvation. That is, inherently, what I think we all experience in our faith: work, trial, tribulation, struggle–but through these fires, we grow and experience Christ.
Apply for the Student Leadership Board. Serve the mission of the Church. Struggle, grow, and encounter Christ.
Here we go, team!
The beginning of Great Lent in college is–at least for me–markedly different than how it began in high school. In high school, I lived with a bunch of people who were also awaiting Forgiveness Sunday–I believe the technical term is “family”–and as such, I felt the onset of Great Lent with each passing day. We planned out the meals; we talked about the church services; we shared our plans for fasting.
In college, it just kinda happens. You don’t have the community–or at least, most of us don’t have as strong of one–to commiserate with us about the loss of choice; to remind us of the wonderful opportunity set before us.
This is not an unfamiliar vacuum, I think–it’s the one of which we are perpetually aware, to one degree or another. “It’s tougher to be Orthodox at college,” we constantly tell our young adults–why? Because that omnipresence of Orthodox family is gone. We are “on our own.” We do not have the safety net.
As such, the onset of Lent isn’t as ground-shaking in college. The vacuum eats up the reverberations, the crash of the impact, and we are left with a world that feels perplexingly unchanged, from Friday into Monday. We have entered the most important period of the Orthodox calendar–but the world outside has just kept on spinning.
We–as we so often are as college students–are left responsible for far more of our world than we once were. We no longer feel the change because of our environment; rather, we are responsible for creating the change–both in ourselves and in our environment.
What does that mean, concretely? It means that our Lenten effort–and that’s a very intentional word: effort–has expanded. We once were responsible for fasting–from meat and dairy and television and music and the like–when we lived in the environment that supported our fast, bolstered our faith, facilitated our church attendance, limited our access to these temptations. Now, we are not only responsible for fasting. We are also responsible for the environment: sculpting our daily world to better provide that support, limit that access, facilitate that attendance. In a way, we are responsible for both walking the tightrope, and erecting the safety net below it.
The mind may immediately refute this notion. “I don’t need to erect the safety net,” the mind says. “I needed the safety net when I was younger, but I’m older now. I have a stronger will, a better resolve. I need to prove to myself, my family, my priest that I can pull off this fast without the help, the positive environment. It will count more that way, anyway.”
This, I would argue, is the temptation of the prideful mind. This mind is not interested in the fast–it’s interested in success, in esteem, in victory over the odds. Completing the fast doesn’t end with the good little Orthodox Christian, victoriously standing upright in the dramatic sunlight like the end of a movie–the fast ends with a dead and risen God. That is the victory.
As such, you could argue about how much the safety net, the supportive environment, is needed all you like. The environment helps us, strengthens our fast, sharpens our faith. I’m interested in that, regardless of the sacrifices it means I have to make–not going out to restaurants that I know have few fasting options; not attending parties that my friends will attend; making new spring break plans.
Enjoy your new responsibility; gear your new opportunity to a more productive, self-altering fast than you’ve ever experienced. It will be hard–thank God for that. It’s the hard things that make us better.
The way we recognize and live our faith online is funny sometimes. When we post online, we have a bit more time between thinking of the message we wish to convey and executing it.
As such, we often craft the image of ourselves that we’d like to present with a lot more intention. Sometimes that can feel a little fake—but its not wrong, I think, to be deliberate in how we convey ourselves through a medium as permanent as Facebook and Instagram and Twitter.
On the same note, there’s also a renowned invincibility—or at least, a bolstering of protective factors—that we experience when we post online. It has something to do with anonymity, occasionally—but when our name is behind our words, we still enjoy the freedom from pressures that arise from being face-to-face with someone, or in a group of people. Through the Internet, we don’t have to respond right away to things, so we feel more comfortable making stronger claims; we don’t have to experience potential awkwardness in real time, and we are accordingly emboldened.
As such—and I mean this in all sincerity—social media and online interactions can be a truly excellent place to manifest our faith. I know that I’m an avid Twitter user, and very often when I’m composing a Tweet with a grateful tone, I end up reconsidering terms like “I’m thankful” or “I’m fortunate,” and often end up focusing on “I’m very blessed.” It’s a small change, but a very intentional one. The little things in my life are blessings, and thanks belong to God. I don’t think of that enough in everyday conversation; the extended time of typing out a post allows me to remember and recognize that.
It goes even deeper than that. Back to Twitter—a lot of the work I do (I’m an NFL Draft analyst) lends itself to disagreement. Disagreement, especially on social media, lends itself to arguments. Arguments breed potshots, low blows, name-calling, and other such instinctual tactics when we feel the threat of being wrong in front of others. That’s the other edge of the sword when it comes to being protected through anonymity, I suppose—most people with whom I interact online, I’ll never meet in real life. So shooting from the hip holds very few tangible consequences to me.
By that same token, however, I’m more likely to speak out when I’m upset in person, because I feel it more immediately, more viscerally. I feel as if I have less control. Through social media, I certainly feel the desire to comment on someone’s politically-charged post with my own opinions—but what good does that add to the world? And when someone gets snarky or condescending in the comments section on one of my takes, I could easily roast and embarrass them—but how does this benefit my Christian life (and their life, Christian or otherwise)?
We’re constantly told of the dangerous of interacting on social media and through the Internet—rightfully so, as it has its pitfalls and traps. We are meant to be living images of Christ, however, and we shouldn’t use the difficulties of online interactions to recuse ourselves from that responsibility. The very process of typing instead of speaking gives us time—more time to think about what we’re saying, how we’re saying it, and why we’re saying it. You have the opportunity to gear that time positively, to convey a clearer message of the Christ that lives through you. Every day, I try to take that opportunity—I hope that you do, too.
Image from Ted on Flickr
“Thank God, that I am not like this tax collector.”
Man, that Pharisee sounds kinda dumb, doesn’t he?
That’s always–God forgive me–one of my first thoughts when I hear the Gospel reading of this Sunday. “You knucklehead! How is it a good idea to thank God for not making you like another one of God’s creations? Dude!”
This really is one of the most extraordinary weeks that the Church gives us. A fast-free week–not following any feast day–but rather that we may “fast from our fasting,” if you will. That we may step away from the works and practices that we so often and so easily substitute for “faith,” and investigate rather our faith in God.
That’s what the publican had that the Pharisee lacked–or rather, that with which the Pharisee struggled. Faith in God.
The Pharisee still believed in God, I believe–but as the Gospel says, the Pharisee stood at the altar and prayed “with himself.” He didn’t pray with Christ, or with the saints, with the Theotokos, as we as Christians are called to do.
The Pharisee prayed with himself because he had faith in himself–not in God. He had faith in his tithes, so he prayed to his tithes; he had faith in his fasting, so he prayed to his fasting. He gave his tithes and fasting and church attendance–his works–praise. He sanctified his works in the temple with his words; he exalted them, because he believed through them he had been saved.
The publican, as we know, had faith in God. He didn’t turn to the liturgical services, the hymnography and the psalms, the works of fasting and tithing as the source of mercy. He spoke from his heart, plainly to God, beseeching that God save him. The publican was only interested in that which mattered: being with God by being saved through Him. He didn’t have works; he had faith.
The parable of the publican and the Pharisee is so powerful, and thank God we use it to begin our fasting period. But when we hear it, we must be wary, less fall into the Pharisee’s very trap:
“Thank God, that I am not like the Pharisee.”
“Thank God, that I am not like the Pharisee. I really have a relationship with God, I speak to God directly–like the publican–and I don’t get caught up in making sure I pray every day, making sure I fast when I should, making sure I attend church. I feel spiritual–I feel a connection with something divine–and I don’t get all caught up in the trappings of the Church.”
We forget, sometimes, that the Pharisees are/were the “good” guys. At least, they weren’t actively bad–they were men of faith in God, but often too entrenched in the faith they knew to recognize the New Testament and the coming of the Messiah. The Pharisees modeled good behavior to the faithful: things like church attendance, fasting, and tithing fall squarely under that category.
The traditions of the Church and practices taught by the fathers aren’t bad–they’re good! They’re powerful and necessary and rejuvenating, but only when they serve their purpose: bringing us closer to God, that we may be saved by Him. When they are done for their own sakes–or worse, for the sake of our self-assuredness and pride–they become noxious distractions.
Avoid this week and this Lent the Pharisee’s trap–do not find yourself judging or boasting in either direction. The publican is our example: in humility and without fear, doing whatever he could to draw closer to God.
It was supposed to be my third College Conference in a row.
And, I mean, it was. I was technically at the Antiochian Village, with other college students, during the conference. However, I spent most of it holed up in my dark room, feeling like garbage.
Pro tip: if you want to enjoy an OCF event, do not get sick.
Let’s take something solid out of a situation that involved some major headaches, at least five boxes of tissues, and a metric ton of green tea: I can now write a reflection for you about what it’s like to not go to College Conference.
I’m sure you know what it’s like to have all of your friends hanging out without you, because you’re super cool. But I had buddies back at the conference I hadn’t seen in upwards of two years, and all of the shenanigans into which we would usually get, they enjoyed without me. That, obviously, was not very fun.
One of the greatest aspects of College Conference is meal time, in my opinion, because you sit in little eight-seat nuclei scattered across the room and just chill. Some meals you’re sitting with all the people you know and the people they know, reminiscing and inside-joking and the like; other meals you’re with seven folks you’ve never met before, and you’re bonding and laughing and it’s all goodness.
It’s very common, in my opinion, for someone to hear about College Conference for the first time–small groups, keynote speaker, workshops speakers, church and more church–and miss that. They miss not only the big chunks of social time built into the schedule, but also that marginal social time that’s just as enjoyable. I also missed the time, mostly because I was gross and food tasted gross, but the point still stands: I missed that wonderful, carefree, responsibility-less time with friends. If you didn’t make it to college conference, you missed it as well.
Missing the speakers wasn’t something I anticipated hitting me as hard as it did, but here we are. I’ve always loved the speakers, but it felt like my takeaways were only a few quick quotes and maybe some general themes. I wish I’d take away more, but often that’s all I get.
At least, I felt as if that was all I got.
Having missed a solid amount of the talks, I’ve discovered that the talks do a lot more for the listener than providing information. In fact, I’d argue that the content of the talks isn’t so much meant to be remembered–rather, it’s the engagement with the material that’s truly valuable. It’s not about knowing what was said, but rather hearing what’s said and interacting with it; listening attentively; bringing the focus of our mind to a higher plane that it would otherwise be.
I think about what we hear before the Gospel during liturgy: “Let us attend!” But after the Gospel, we don’t hear “Make sure you remember what just happened!” Then we get the sermon, which doesn’t reiterate the Gospel to ensure we remember it, but helps us engage with the readings through interpretations, stories of the church fathers, and the like.
I missed the mental work of being in the talks; of being forced to think of bigger and better things.
3) Not Words
Admittedly, I could have done a far better job with this in my little room at the conference center–sitting in silence and being still. However, I was sick and grumpy, so I watched a lot of Netflix and found other ways to busy myself instead.
College Conference is smarter than to try and force silence and stillness on you–that’s not how silence and stillness works. It’s extremely voluntary–you cannot quiet all of the worries, stresses, and thoughts bouncing between your ears if you want to be embroiled in those thoughts. Trust me–I fall victim to that issue all of the time.
But College Conference does create that contemplative space for those who want it–in the chapels, the museum area, wherever. Often, the greatest obstacle standing between us and stillness is creating a space for that stillness in our busy lives–but College Conference offers that space, which encourages us to capitalize on it, as it is rare and valuable.
With my cold, I was far too self-pitying to find meditative silence; at home, not attending the conference, I’m sure the madness of life would have stifled me just as effectively.
If you went to College Conference, awesome. I hope you didn’t take for granted all the stuff I was sorely missing this year. It’s a holy time, that blesses us with many gifts–some we recognize; some we don’t.
If you didn’t go to College Conference this year–like me–you missed out. But I won’t be making the same mistake next winter break; and I hope you don’t, either.
A blessed feast of Saint Herman to you all!
One of my favorite things about December is the feasts of the saints. In my OCA church populated by Russians, Saint Nicholas Day on December 6th is a cups hand to microphone big deal. One week later, on December 13th, we have the feast of Saint Herman–and we’re blessed to have his relics in my parish.
It’s such a great blessing to have these feast days in the month of December–not only because they give me a few extra liturgies in my familiar home parish, but because they help us prepare us for the Nativity of our Lord.
But standing in church, specifically today, on the feast of Saint Herman, reminds me how important it is to cultivate a relationship with the saints…
By Ted (St. Herman of Alaska) via Wikimedia Commons
…aaand how much I struggle with that.
Developing that conversation with the saints has always been such a great struggle of mine–if you haven’t experienced that, that’s a blessing in and of itself. I think it requires good humility to develop that relationship with the saints, and humility is something with which I certainly struggle.
A relationship with the saints immediately implies a need for help–a need that I undeniably have, but continuously endeavor to deny. Often, my approach to the saints reminds me of my father trying to fix the plumbing when I was kid: he didn’t really have any idea what he was doing, but he was going to figure it out on his own. Forget actually calling a plumber–even YouTube was too great of a crutch. He was smarter than the pipes.
Saints have figured it out. Saints know what’s up. Saints have the blueprint.
But a prideful mind insists that taking someone else’s blueprint is cheating; is a falsehood. It pokes holes in each saint story: take Saint Herman, who was a young, promising monk whose ideal life ended up leading him to a remote island in Alaska–that doesn’t feel very analogous to my life at all. Or Saint Nicholas, who was out punching heretics and sneaking bags of gold into people’s boots. Don’t get me wrong, I’m down to punch a heretic, I just think I might get arrested afterward, and my mom would be so mad…
But this is where we get fooled by the blueprint metaphor. The saints’ lives aren’t put before us so that we can do what they did, like robots learning a code; mimicking their every action like a step-by-step instruction set for Heaven entry and eternal rejoicing. The saints’ lives don’t show us the “what”–they don’t even show us the “how,” really. They show us what happens when you firmly, unflinchingly, devotedly believe in the “why.”
Again, action without intention is animatronic. There is no value in doing exactly what the saints did because you want the results they achieved. That’s not to say we can’t employ the strategies of the saints, learn lessons from their examples–but to assume the saints drew a map to the Kingdom is a mistake.
The saints lived lives fueled by their love for Christ. And because each saint followed different paths (St. Herman from the monastery, St. Elizabeth from royalty, St. Moses the Black from crime, St. Mary of Egypt from prostitution), we know it isn’t about the exact minutiae of their lives. It’s about that one thing that was common between them all: the love for Christ.
As such, if we struggle to relate with one unique saint, maybe that’s okay. But if we struggle relating to at least one of the vast numbers of saints–a demographic defined by their common love for Christ–then it is certainly time to look inward.
Thank God for the lives of the saints, given to us by the Church as examples of faith in all of its forms. Thank God that we have the opportunity to investigate, participate in that depth of faith. No matter how we may struggle to form that relationship with the saints, we must recognize that they are the men and women who loved Christ harder than anyone else. If that is truly our goal, then these are our allies, our mentors, and our guides. We do not wish to become them; we wish to become like them.